Reality Presses Back
Matters of Balance

Sometimes at night, when I can't yet sleep, unbidden images dance around in my head. Probably it happens to you, too. Usually these minimovies are enjoyable, and lead to a peaceful frame of mind ... and sleep. But we live in a real world, facing real worries, which can assert themselves during these unguarded moments of semi-sleepiness. If the messages are scary, perhaps about vague potential dangers we have little control over, it can be disturbing. Either way, you might gather insights of a surprising kind. Let me describe one recently example, a parable for our times.
Complex issues, involved dynamic systems, are generally easier to study by distilling out the essential components. Assume we were interested in analyzing an involved, gradually changing human organization, a microcosm of human culture and civilization. You might initially observe the many conflicting opinions and views, which upon scrutiny fall into two broad sides, like the right and left sides of our symmetric bodies, the two handedness we, and much else in the natural world embody. It looks as if one half of us were reflected into a mirror to create the opposite side. Sort of like the two hands shown next:

Left and Right in Balance

Here you see not one hand resting upon a reflective wall, but two hands, in fact my own two hands, raised and pressing against each other towards the center with equal force. The resulting configuration is extremely stable, a case of equilibrium. Gravity doesn't reduce the stability, but actually causes it to hold together firmly, left and right, mutually supportive. Similar forms are often found in architecture (the arch), engineering (zero-sum vectors), and most of the other arts and sciences. It also forms an apt metaphor for social balance, including the interdependence of human thought, including political thought and opinion. The Left is supported by the Right; the Right is supported by the Left.

Eliminating One Side

To an extent, there's an unexpressed tolerance, both as each side tolerates each other, and as weight and attention shift dynamically over time, responding to external forces and attitudes. First it favors one side, then the other, but averages out again, maintaining the equilibrium. Many people instinctively sense this even-handedness as natural and beneficial, and they're quite correct. But what if only one hand were given full attention, the other ignored, allowed to fade-out and play no active role in the system? One side might even believe, with hubris, that it actually didn't need the other side -- that it was self-supporting!

No Mutual Support

Time would pass. Unchecked, the balanced system would become only half a system. Remember, each hand had pressed against the other, and was buoyed back in place. Equal and opposite forces resulted in stability. It might also happen that one dominating side simply moved itself away from the center, to far over on its own side. Then the other hand could no longer touch it, to press back against it. The balance that was once taken for granted would become sacrificed, and what remained, one force pressing unchecked, could no longer hold.

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The fall would be inevitable and swift. Gravity of one kind or another would assert itself. In sacrificing its symmetrical "alter-ego" the remaining hand would be unable to halt its own toppling to the ground. If that side controlled everything within the system, everything piled upon itself, the additional weight would assure that the "accident" about to happen would be brutal and inevitable. Only conceit and lack of perspective might permit an illusion that this fall might be in any way "a surprise."

The Inevitable Fall

Are we surprised? Were you? Did you feel the tremors before the toppling took place? Was anyone watching? Was anyone at all paying attention? Or is it possible that for one brief vain instant, the one active hand, not knowing or caring what the other hand was doing, considered itself perfection, needing no other sides of issues, no contrary forces, needing nothing but its own self-reenforcement? Sadly these dynamics represent a not uncommon narcissistic failure we might accurately describe as the folly of: The Triple-Selfs: Selfishness, Self-centeredness, and Self-righteousness.

R. I. P.

Leading to its own down--fall, literally, and no one is left standing, no one to cheer or to grieve. Nada. Niente. Nihilists only need apply. A Reign of the Triple-Selfs is again extinguished. In time remnants from the debris, Phoenix-like, may be able to raise both hands again...

Pray We're Not That Stupid

... in the traditional modest evocation of a prayer, along with, more practically, a sane avoidance of extremism. We might well reconsider the consequences before experiencing a mighty collapse from within our own walls. Who would willingly choose such imbalance to replace a natural give-and-take stability? Unchecked, radical one-sidedness would take everything down with itself, ruthless imbalance transformed into uniform chaos and entropy, which is yet another way that nature will restore equilibrium.

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Wendy Carlos, Balance
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